I wasn't even expecting to walk into the World of Outlaws trailer last night at Paducah International Raceway and walk out with something other than a driver roster. It's dirt track racing. What PR guy Tony Veneziano handed me was infinitely cool: four reporter notebooks and three World of Outlaws pens.
Reporters on various beats are invariably offered some sort of work-perk schwag from their sources. In my contract, it says something like I'm not supposed to take it if it is worth $50 or more, but politely refuse or donate it to charity. Sadly, I haven't even been tempted with something so valuable. But, I have been offered other little things here and there that make my job pretty cool.
At the Missouri School of Journalism, we're told not to take anything from any source. By doing so, our credibily is skewed and we become "beholden" to our sources to write a positive story. This was after I freely accepted a basket of ribbon fries at a Lion's Club festival. I've learned there is a balance when accepting the schwag.
I learned best the perspective of ethical gift acceptance from a NASCAR reporter I met through my journeys. I was freelancing the 2007 NASCAR All-Star race for his paper when I was confronted with a line of tables chock full of free goodies in the press room. These ranged from then-Nextel Cup schedules to an actual free jug of Junior Johnson's moonshine. People in the media room were going nuts for the shine.
I told the reporter about my misgivings about taking free things from sources. His response was cheeky, but good: "If NASCAR thinks they can buy my allegiance with a free baseball cap, then more power to them."
NASCAR was, after all, giving out the goods to everyone in the room. Home Depot even sponsored pens, notebooks and Post-It notes. I came out of there with a cap I gave my dad and a small Craftsman Truck notebook I'm still using.
And if grandma offers me a cookie while I'm interviewing her son, I'll take it if I am hungry. Debbie Keeling offered me some sweet tea while I talked to her husband Gary. Turned out to be some of the best tea I've ever had and Debbie likely felt more like a proper hostess since I accepted.
At college sporting events, reporters typically eat for free and partake in some sort of low maintenance meal. Am I beholden? No. I, and other reporters, have likely just traveled a good distance to cover the event. The meal is more of a thank-you, please-come-again, token.
I come again.
For Ohio Valley Conference media days, the organization is kind enough to hand out guest gifts. I now have two thumb drives and a super travel mug. They are tastefully covered with the OVC logo, but since I'm not boasting the colors of a single team, I'll use them.
Lately I've been offered racing T-shirts. These I sadly must turn down. I adore racing T-shirts. The day-glo neon and angular cars spread across my shoulders make up some of my favorite garb. But to wear one shirt from one driver is to appear to favor that driver and not another. Sandy Mason, mom of Street Stock driver J.R. Mason, was crushed when I wouldn't even tell her what size I wear.
Trust me, I was crushed too that you offered to give me a really well-designed free racing T-shirt that I had to decline because of any perceived bias.
But Veneziano's schwag was appreciated. I had already been at the track more than two hours, had sweated myself smelly and was fixing to spend the rest of the night collecting dust with a bit of an attitude. I'm glad it was just pens and notebooks he offered me; had it been a WoO T-shirt, I don't know if I could have stood the temptation.